"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Saturday, March 9, 2024

My Name's Al

 “Me — Worry?”

Morton Hull published this poem entitled “My Name's Al” in The Rotarian in March of 1948.

My Name's Al

Me Worry? No, Sirree!
For I'm the guy I live with, see!
Clutter up my dome with woes?
What's the good? Taint sense! I knows!
Each conscious day I just adore,
Plus mem'ries of the day before.
Tomorrow's sure to come in stride,
Without my bein' notified.
I keep happy at my chore,
And this or that, and a heap lot more;
Simply 'cause I've got no room
To nurse that loafer, Old Man Gloom.
Listen! You! Who fret and stew
Just live today and love it, too.
Every day's that way with me!
Me - - Worry? No, Sirree!
Hull had published the poem before, in The Rotarian in 1942 and in the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine in 1941, under the title Design for Livin'. The Alumni Magazine remarks that “Mort is now widely recognized as the Sage of Holyoke, the Great Philosopher of the Connecticut Valley,” and  notes that “Under the title Design for Living he distributes his best-known verse in printed form.”  I prefer the 1948 version because... well, my name is Al. 

The portrait which Hull identifies as “Al” is, obviously, Alfred  E. Neuman. But MAD Magazine, its mascot Alfred E. Neuman, and the phrase  “What, Me Worry?” would not appear until 1954. Hull says that this picture “framed in plush and gilt, has been handed down for several generations of my family”.  It appears to be a version of this poster, called “The Original Optimist,”  copyright 1914 by Harry S. Stuff,

See Stuff, Harry S. (1869-1938) by Peter Blecha, 11/29/2016
History Link.org

which, in turn, seems to be a descendant of this 1894 poster for a play called “The New Boy” by Arthur Law.  

‘What's the good of anything? -  Nothing!’

The ad below appeared in The San Francisco Morning Call on November 18, 1894.

And this image appeared in  a review in The Los Angeles Herald on December 2, 1894.

 What's the good of anything?   Nothing!

Here's a photo of James Powers as the title character of the play:

 This meme seems to have been picked up as a symbol of painless dentistry after it was used in ads for a patent medicine (never actually patented!) called Antikamnia. Antikamnia was mostly acetanilid but was sold in tablets mixed with codeine, heroin or quinine. This image appeared on a 1908 Antikamnia Calendar.

“It Didn't Hurt a Bit”

The National Museum of American History has a bottle of Antikamnia and Heroin:
AntiKamnia & Heroin

HAK - Registered Sep.  3, 1890

Its application to painless dentistry seems obvious. The ad below comes from The Lynden Washington Tribune January 8, 1914.

“It Didn't Hurt a Bit”

And this ad makes the connection explicit:

See Didn't Hurt a Bit by John Adcock April 26, 2012.

In 1975, Harvey Kurtzman recounted, in the  New York Times, that:
I think it was 1954… while passing the time of day in the office of an editor, Bernard Shir‐Cliff, I noticed on the Ballantine Book bulletin board a postcard with this face. The card had some ad message—I don't recall what... I associated it with the funny‐picture postcards In Times Square penny arcades and tourist traps, this one with the caption “What, Me Worry?” under the bumpkin portrait—part leering wiseacre, part happy‐golucky kid...So I pocketed the card and rushed back to the workshop where I inserted the “What, Me Worry?” face on and in subsequent issues of Mad magazine.
He included the following Alfred E. Neuman family tree poking fun at the notion of tracing the genealogy of this meme.

 The portrait below of Alfred Neuman,  "American composer, arranger, and conductor of film music" is an acknowledgement that Alfred E. Neuman was named after him.

To follow the tangled trail of pre-MAD images of Alfred E. Neuman try these:

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